Thanksgiving According to Charles Ives

Jennie A. Brownscombe, The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth (1914)

Jennie A. Brownscombe, The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth (1914)

—for Kyle Gann

Thanksgiving and Forefathers’ Day is the last of the four pieces included in Charles Ives’s A Symphony: New England Holidays. Ives provided no program note for the piece, but the score does bear a dedication to his brother-in-law, Edward Carrington Twichell (“Uncle Deac”):

This is a very nice piece of TURKEY – Eddy!
Put it there! – Very Good Eddy!
& dedicated
125 Woodlawn St. Hartford

[James B. Sinclair, A Descriptive Catalogue of The Music of Charles Ives MSS 14]

The genesis of Thanksgiving and Forefathers’ Day—and of the symphony itself—was an organ prelude and postlude Ives wrote for a Thanksgiving service while he was in college at Yale. “The Postlude,” Ives is said to have observed,

starts with C-minor and D-minor together, and later major and minor chords together, a tone apart. This was to represent the sternness and strength and austerity of the Puritan character, and it seemed that any of the major, minor or diminished chords used alone gave a feeling of bodily ease which the Puritan did not give in to. [New World Records Program Notes]

Here’s some commentary that accompanied the PBS broadcast of the Ives Holidays symphony episode of Keeping Score:

Once again Ives divides the orchestra into groups playing hymns in two opposing keys. Most prominent is the traditional Thanksgiving hymn, The Shining Shore. Again, the bottom drops out, and we hear the swing of a scythe—either the harvest or the Grim Reaper has arrived. The ultimate question is asked again and as the music picks up again toward celebration and noise, the listener expects a confrontational crunch.

Instead, Ives surprises us. A large chorus sounds out Thanksgiving hymns. The choir sings a round and the whole procession passes into the distance. The different songs merge into one universal hymn of mankind. [PBS, Keeping Score]

With best wishes for Thanksgiving to all who celebrate it, and with best wishes every day to all.

Listening List

Charles Ives, Thanksgiving and Forefathers’ Day (“Composed c1904, according to Ives (such an early version must be lost); ? recomposed c1911-16; partly rev. and ink full score made 1932-33”) [Sinclair]

Orchestration: “Picc-2-2-2-2-cbn; 4-3-3-1; timp, bells (high, medium, low), ch (church, low), cel, pf; str (opt. fl 3, cl 3, bn 3, hn 5, tpt 4, off-stage ensemble [cbn, 4 hn, tbn], SSATTB chorus)” [Sinclair]

On Spotify (Tilson Thomas/San Francisco Symphony), together with The Shining Shore, sung by the Anonymous 4, and Ives’s Fugue In Four Keys On The Shining Shore, performed by the Detroit Chamber Winds And Friends. Some information on the latter may be found here, which quotes Ives on the fugue:

excerpt from Bach in America, edited by Stephen A. Crist, 163

excerpt from Bach in America, edited by Stephen A. Crist, 163

On YouTube (Tilson Thomas/San Francisco Symphony)

Also on YouTube:

The Shining Shore (cover by Sonsy)

Fugue In Four Keys On The Shining Shore

Other resources: Keeping Score, Ives’s Holidays Symphony


Credits: The image at the head of the post may be found here. The sources for quotations in the post may be found at the indicated links.

Autumn Miscellany

7 IMG_0411_edited-1The Mid-Hudson Valley and environs this year turned in the most spectacular fall I can remember. As I wrote this post, the leaves were falling fast. Now they’re down, baring bones of trees on a carpet of brown. Continue reading

Breezeway Homage No. 9, The Pie District

The Pie District, Susan Scheid (2015)

The Pie District, Susan Scheid (2015)

The collage takes its name from the poem “The Pie District” in John Ashbery’s collection Breezeway. Many of Ashbery’s lifelong preoccupations and motifs are present in this poem, or so it seems to me. Just as one glimpse, in reading the second stanza, I think of What Is Poetry: “In school/All the thought got combed out,” and from Soonest Mended, this: Continue reading

Innisfree Garden at Season’s End

1 IMG_0142_edited-1The photographs were taken at Innisfree Garden October 17, 2015, the last weekend of its season. Photographers and artists, who had come early for a rare chance to take in the morning light, lingered on, and another group was gathering for a curator’s garden walk as we arrived. We went our own way, taking in the beautiful autumn day. Continue reading

Breezeway Homage No. 8, “Own the blankness.”

"Own the blankness." Susan Scheid (2015)

“Own the blankness.” Susan Scheid (2015)

The collage pays homage to John Ashbery’s poem “Heading Out” in the volume Breezeway. John Ashbery’s poem “Auburn-Tinted Fences,” in his volume Quick Questionincludes the word “glacis.After reading the poem at an Interview hosted by Al Filreis, February 12, 2013, [item 3 at ~4:10], Ashbery quipped, “I wonder if what I was really trying to do was to fit the word glacis into a poem. I’m not entirely sure what it means.” [listen to the audio here]  I suspect the same might be true for “sockdolager,” which Ashbery uses in “Heading Out.” “Heading Out” is, itself, a sockdolager of a poem, about which this collage offers but a glancing glimpse. Continue reading